The Big Fear

    First, a bit of BSP: I recently decided to try an experiment in electronic publishing. My friends J.A. Konrath and Lee Goldberg have had some success putting stuff up on Kindle and other e-pub formats. So I thought I’d stick my own  toe in the digital water, so to speak,  and put my novel STORM SURGE on line, for those of you who are electronically enabled. In keeping with the idea that e-pubbing should be cheap, it’s only $1.99. 

     You can find the Kindle version HERE, and Smashwords has other formats HERE. Let me know how you like it. I’ll report back,  as Joe and Lee have done, on my experience with the experiment.

     Now, on with the show:

It’s spring again. Gorgeous outside, despite the yellow clouds of pollen hanging so thick in the air that it looks like we’re under some sort of chemical warfare attack. It’s warm, the trees are blooming, it’s a great time to be alive. 

So naturally, perverse critter that I am, I’m thinking about fear.

Recently, while looking for something else,  I stumbled across the work of photographer Joshua Hoffine, who’s done a stunning series on childhood fears:


  If you click through (and I recommend that you do), be warned that some of these images are extremely disturbing and some are definitely NSFW.


 (All images used with the permission of the photographer, who also invites you to visit his blog).



     A short time later, I was having a conversation with my wife, who’s currently reading a Nevada Barr book that features spelunkers–people who explore caves for fun.  As she described passages about exploring narrow passages deep in the earth, crawling along chutes too narrow to even sit up or turn around in, I recalled one of my own childhood terrors.

   When I was growing up, there were a number of storm drains and drainage pipes in my neighborhood:  long, narrow concrete tubes to divert storm run-off away from the roads and people’s yards. I remember looking down one of those pipes and wondering what it would be like to be crawling  through one of those and get stuck halfway through, unable to go forward or back, where no one could reach you or hear your cries, where the only thing to do would be die a long slow horrible death, alone in the dark….

    I was a lot of fun as a kid, believe me. But you will never,  EVER get me into one  of those chutes underground.

    It  started me thinking about how everyone’s afraid of something:

    I was talking to my girlfriend the other day, and I asked her, “what are you afraid of?” And she said, “I’m afraid we’re growing apart, that you’ll leave me some day and that I’ll die alone. What are you afraid of?” and I said “Bears.” -Mike Birbiglia

    And how, despite the fact we hold many fears in common, each of us has, locked within us, the one Big Fear, the one thing we just can’t abide: 

The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’ George Orwell, 1984.

  And then I started thinking about my current WIP. One of the antagonists is a former military specialist in PSYWAR–psychological warfare. His specialty involved things like this. His job was to scare the enemy, literally, to death. And now, he’s come home, bringing his private war with him, wielding his favorite weapon: stark terror. 

   And so,  in the interest of research, I want to hear what it is that scares other people. So tell me….what are you most afraid of? I’m not talking angst here, or worry. I’m talking about the one thing on earth that even thinking about makes you cold. The thing that can send you skitttering backwards across a room to get away. What’s your “worst thing in the world”?

    Sharing time, boys and girls…

43 thoughts on “The Big Fear

  1. Chris Hamilton

    Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?

    Seriously, buried alive, left alone, ridiculed, made to listen to Music Box Dancer over and over for the rest of my life at really high volume…none of these comes close to snakes.

    You can’t stop a snake. No matter what you put between you and him–walls, ditches, anything–yoou can’t stop him. And then he’s on you.

    If I’m Indiana Jones and I look down in the Well of the Souls, I say "Bury it, boys. Run some branches across it to cover the footprints. Maybe they won’t look here. After all, their headpiece of the staff of Ra only has one side."

  2. JD Rhoades

    You can’t stop a snake. No matter what you put between you and him–walls, ditches, anything–you can’t stop him

    Allow me to introduce you to my friend, Mr. Bush Axe.

    I was clearing brush one time on some land where my family was building a house. When I moved a log aside, there was a big ol’ copperhead underneath. I reached over and grabbed Mr. Bush Axe, who I’d stuck in the ground a few feet away. A couple minutes later, the guy I was working with kind of chuckled and said, "okay, Dusty, I think you can quit killin’ him now." I had hacked that snake into about a dozen pieces.

    So yeah, Chris, I get that one.

  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    Fire. Especially involving people. Can’t watch it in movie/tv, can’t think about it. I used to sleep at the foot of my parents’ bed then in the hallway when they kicked me out because of fear of fire at night.

  4. JD Rhoades

    Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacaphobia. Maybe you have thalassophobia. This is fear of the ocean, or gephyrobia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?

    Charlie Brown: What’s pantophobia?

    Lucy Van Pelt: The fear of everything.

    Charlie Brown: THAT’S IT!

    [Lucy goes flying out into a field of snow]

  5. Vicky McAulay

    The thing that drops my stomach to the floor is torture. Any scene in a book or movie that involves someone in a totally helpless situation enduring pain, over and over, gives me nightmares.

  6. Danni

    I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t like driving. Something about going along at unnatural speeds on little roads, with cars, bridges, and many other things boxing you in it’s scary. At such speeds, the only thing keeping you back from death is your own two hands on the wheel. And even then, it’s not always enough. That’s what I’m afraid of. That I’ll kill myself and more than likely take others with me.

  7. Brett Batles

    I’m a veer good swimmer. As a kid I was even better, spent many years on the local swim team and even held the record for a while at a local poolfor backstroke for my age group. But I tell you, I also had the fear that sound sort of being was going to sudden rush out of the drain in the deep end, grab me and pull me under! Maybe I used that as motivation. To this day the thought crosses my mind whenever I go into the deep end of a pool, though it doesn’t stop me.

  8. Eika

    I almost say ‘a needle full of air’ because, as a small child, I saw a movie where someone was murdered with one. But no, that’s not it. Because I’m not scared of needles.

    I’m scared of tics.

    Field trip through the woods. Fifth grade. We weren’t warned beforehand, and everyone took turns in the bathroom picking them off after, then took showers. Well, a week later I was inspecting my belly-button and felt something I could flick. Back and forth.

    Yes. One had been there a week. Inside my belly-button. I literally ripped it off, ran to the bathroom, and drowned it in the sink. I apparently ripped so well, due to my freak-out, that I got it all, too.

  9. Mark Terry

    Snakes, yeah. Almost a family joke. I’m okay in the reptile exhibit at the Detroit Zoo because they’re all under glass. But I’ve had a couple situations like my kids’ daycare when they were younger and at Disney World where they have somebody out with a bigass snake on their shoulder and you can come pet it and I don’t get closer than about ten feet without going all cold. It’s not rational. It’s something atavistic and I don’t really have it with spiders, although as I’ve said, just because I’m not necessarily afraid of a spider the size of my fist, that doesn’t mean I want to find one on my pillow.

  10. Samantha

    I have to say flying and needles are high on my list of things that scare me. But as the years have passed, I’ve slowly learned to deal with them. Less so for needles because there is no happy part. Flights at least take you somewhere nice (if you’re on vacation).

    But the two things that scare me, that haunt my dreams are my fear of being stabbed or shot.

  11. MJ

    Hm. I really don’t know. Fire and drowning and being trapped in a plane breaking apart and crashing, certainly, but the thougth of them alone doesn’t do it. Caves. Trapped in a cave might do it.

    Hoffine’s site reminded me of something that did scare the daylights out of me and haunt me for a long time after I saw it – the sequence in Pan’s Labyrinth with the Pale Man pursing the girl underground. A creepy, wizened creature, mostly silent, with eyeballs in its hands…I run into him on a dark street at night and you’ll hear me screaming on both coasts. And this from someone not overly afraid of walking city streets after dark either…

  12. Barbie




    Fire gives me panic attacks. (Not oven fires, but slightly large to really large fires). Nuns give me the chills and I just can’t stand being around them. No idea where that ever came from, but everyone thinks it’s funny.

    But roaches? They’re MONSTERS! Horrible, terrifying monsters. Rats, snakes, spiders, anything, I’ll take them, pet them and name them. But roaches??? Ahh, they can make me scream like *nothing* else does. Ask my mom and my brother, they’ll tell you. I won’t sleep if I know there’s one of these horrible monsters living in our home, I can’t even come near them to kill. If I absolutely have to, I’ll drown them in poison, but I’d much rather run, scream my lungs out and leave it to whomever gets tired of the screams first to kill it.

  13. toni mcgee causey

    Snakes. (Chris, I loved that answer. That is *exactly* what I would have said, too, if I were Indiana Jones.) I have come across too many water moccasins to count, and it’s never a calm, "Oh, gee, look, there’s a snake," moment. I am pretty sure, on several occasions, I levitated to get away from the damned things.

    Knives. Being stabbed. ‘nough said.

  14. Rae

    Spiders. I’m better about them than I used to be, but they used to send me out of the room. It all dates back to an episode with a wolf spider (first cousin to a tarantula) who got waaaay too close for comfort.

    Also, certain heights – there are times when I get too near a window in a tall building, or a cliff or an elevated walkway between buildings, and I really feel like I’m going to get sucked over the edge – to the point where I can feel myself falling. The feeling is so strong when it hits that it really makes me wonder about the possibility of past lives, and whether I might have died in a fall at some point. Of course, if we do have past lives, I’m also sure I was once the empress of a realm πŸ˜‰

  15. kagey

    My fear is specific: overpasses that turn on an icy day. Bridges always ice over first, and it seems like my fellow drivers never remember this fact. The flyovers here in Denver frequently have a curve to them, and being that high up, with what looks like only a flimsy guard rail keeping me from going over… I still drive on them on snowy days, but I’m the slow driver making everyone wait. And that’s okay with me.
    When we lived in LA, there was an accident involving a semi going off an overpass, and that was without ice involved.

  16. Rachel Walsh

    Snakes do it for me, too.

    I live in Australia. A few years back my then three year old daughter alerted the family (by a chorus of happy burbles about a "nake") that a highly venomous brown snake had made its way under the tiny gap between our front door and the floor, and was lurking somewhere in our lounge room.

    My hero is our local snake catcher (now on speed-dial) who was at our door within ten minutes, and found the viper curled behind our book shelf. All I could think .. what if our daughter hadn’t seen it? Yikes!

  17. Naomi Johnson

    The one thing that gives me the chill of doom is to be stopped in a car under a bridge or overpass. I never felt this way until, years ago, I read an article about what happened to the people on that double-decker freeway in Oakland during the big quake. I don’t even like for one tiny portion of the car to be where the overpass could collapse on it. And I don’t mind driving in front or back of semis, but being beside them makes me worry they could tip over on me. That happened to a woman here once, just driving along and the semi in the next lane rolled on top of her car.

  18. Mo

    Publice speaking while standing in front of the crowd. I can speak to a room chuck full of people if i am seated at a table but I fall apart with fear if I am on my feet. Oh, and tornados. Thanks for the ebook link, I jusy bought the kindle version. While I have been reading this blog for quite a while I have only read some of the authors. I have used the free or inexpensive kindle books to try new authors frequently resulting in my buying up their backlist after that first read. Good luck.

  19. Mark Young

    One of my biggest fears? Losing my child. I lost sight of my eight-year-old daughter in a shopping mall for just a minute a few years ago. Fear hit me hard. I was a cop in my past life, and everything I knew about sexual predators flashed through my mind at that moment. Any kind of death would be kinder to me than this fear. I lose my professional detachment when the potential victim is someone I love.

  20. kit

    honestly, the fear of being wrong…and the fear of being right.
    and that possibly doesn’t make any sense, but try the occult…if I’m wrong..then give me one of those little aluminum hats(with a propeller, please), I’ld like to be well dressed while waiting for the mother ship. If I’m right..then, HOLY MOTHER of GOD!!! it’s kind of like seeing the pink elephant in the middle of the room.
    Sooooooooo……it’s ok to write about this, read about it..but live it?? It’s kinda like explaining you believe in the GREAT PUMPKIN.

  21. kit

    this isn’t what happens..but what if, you were in court before a well-respected judge, and the thought popped in your head..that he loved wearing women’s clothing.
    You really can KNOW too much or not enough.

  22. JD Rhoades

    Chris, Toni: your take on Indiana Jones makes me laugh hard. I think my response would be out of ALIENS: Pull everyone out, nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

    Mark Young: I know that fear well. Closest I ever came to beating a child in public is when The Boy was three or so and decided it would be a fun thing to do to hide in the middle of a circular clothes rack in a big department store and let us try and find him.

    Thank you, Janine :-).

  23. JD Rhoades

    Eike: growing up where I did, ticks (our spelling) were a constant worry, especially since they carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I don’t feel fear of them, though, more like a really intense visceral hatred. I used to torture the little bastards: magnifying glass in the sun, little fence of matches burning down till they burst from the heat, red-hot tweezers, etc. And I’d do it again. Hate them. Hate. Them.

    kit: how do you KNOW that isn’t what happens?

  24. kit

    seriously, in the REAL world..big kitties.
    We have cougars in the western part of the state, however because of the droughts, they have been following the river beds and moving east….I never want to run into one but I’m more afraid for our kids or pets.

    and heights….I hate heights…even stepping stools, small ladders.

  25. Nancy Laughlin

    Being the center of attention in front of a large group of people. Add in public speaking and my knees will probably buckle. I’m okay with a small group, but not a large group, especially I think they may know more on the subject I’m talking about than I do.
    Crickets, sounds dumb, but I used to get them in my bedroom as a kid, and everytime I tried to kill one, it would jump straight at me. My poor dad got very tired of my shrieking. Strangely enough, other spiders/insects don’t both me.
    Rats. I’ve never come face to face with a large one, but I strongly suspect I would freak out.

  26. Vivienne Grainger

    My fear is heights. In my city, we have an aerial tramway. Never been on it, never expect to.
    I experience this fear at odd times: watching that tramcar, walking up a narrow open stairway that has no handrail. And oddly enough, it does not translate into fear of falling: it’s all about altitude and the ability to see exactly how far I am from the safety of the surface of the Earth. Blessed, solid earth … or floor. But you get the idea.

  27. Allison Brennan

    My oldest daughter is terrified of being underground. She has a physical reaction–she gets tense, starts shaking, and if she’s underground too long she gets a severe headache. My husband teases her as well as her sister, but I put a stop to it–you just have to look at her to know she’s terrified. I didn’t believe it until we went on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. When I took her to NY last summer, she refused to go on the subway. We ate at a restaurant where there was seating downstairs in the basement, and she ate at the single tables upstairs (I joined her, but there wasn’t enough room for everyone else.) And while she’s scared of being underground, her real fear is being buried alive.

    For me? I don’t like snakes or spiders, but I don’t have a fear of them. My real fear is being in a situation where I can only save one of my children and have to make a choice. How can I? The fear started after my second baby was born. I was on a bridge crossing the American River and thought, what would happen if my car went over with two kids in car seats in the back? How would I get them both out? How would I choose who to take first? Every time I cross a bridge with the kids, I think about this and get cold shivers. If I’m alone, it doesn’t even cross my mind.

  28. toni mcgee causey

    Oh, Dusty, you reminded me. One day a few years ago, I heard our really sweet, mild-mannered neighbor SCREAMING at his young daughter, chewing her out, and he’s just not the type. I went outside to see what happened (they were in their driveway), and he was visibly shaking. She had thought it was funny to hide from her brothers underneath a blanket that was lying in the driveway. I don’t know why she thought this would actually work–the brother could see her shape–but as the dad pulled in, he only *just* realized there was a lump there in time to stop to keep from rolling over her.

    He went gray almost overnight. I think he shook for days.

  29. Cathy

    Whew – I read through y’alls posts, nodding my head over a few. Yep, can relate to not liking needles or snakes, although I did get over the fear of tight narrow tubes on about my 20th MRI. Like Brett, I also swam competitively and am terrifed of drowning, not because of the drain but because a couple of the older guys thought it great fun to catch the younger kids (that would be me) in the deep end and make them ‘tougher’ by holding them underwater and trying to drown them. Sigh, bullying isn’t new.
    But Mark’s losing a child at the mall sent my mommy hormones into overdrive and then I fell off the chair with heart failure at Toni’s neighbor’s near drive over, so I gotta say, losing a child is my absolute terror.
    And Allison, when my children were small and my husband traveled, I used to lie in bed in the wee hours of the morning, trying to figure out how I could get to both of them if a bad guy broke into the house.

  30. Chris Hamilton

    I’m in Toastmasters. Most of the people in there are there because if they have to go to a funeral and chose between giving a eulogy and being in the casket, they’d rather be in a casket. (I’m in there because I am an insufferable ham.) If you’re afraid of that and you might have to speak, it might be worth considering.

    As for the fear of being under an underpass, when I was a little kid, if I was talking and we drove under an underpass, my voice went away until we came out. It’s how I knew I was destined for radio (that and my physical appearance, which is perfect for radio).

    I think another fear would be of having a stroke. Having a perfectly good mind sealed within a shell of a body that can’t do anything. That’s worse than snake.

  31. Fran

    Anything with more than four legs. They’re just Wrong. I had nightmares after seeing the movie "Charlotte’s Web" — I literally found myself at the door, the light on, panting and shaking from the fear that Charlotte was descending from the ceiling toward my face.

    And I absolutely could not physically take my tent down after camping once because there was a grasshopper on it. My son was alternately amused and pissed off, but he knew I couldn’t, simply could not get near the tent.

    Weird, I know. Because I love camping despite the multilegged life out there. But they’re alien life forms and need to be sent back home to their freaky planet.

    Beyond that, though, the thought of anything happening to my family just paralyzes me. If I thought about it too much, I’d never leave the house and I wouldn’t let them leave either, which isn’t very practical.

  32. JT Ellison

    I saw the first picture and almost had to bunt the post. I HATE being scared. I guess I’d have to say I’m scared of being scared. Those pictures creeped me out. I couldn’t even tell you what my biggest fear is – it’s all to do with loss, of course, but I am terribly afraid of spiders. And clowns. Just typing the word makes me shudder. Well done, Dusty, and good luck with the ebook!!!!


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